My Intangible Pension

I was fortunate to enter the corporate world at a time when companies still offered pensions. About half-way through my career, the pension plans were replaced by 401k plans. I had enough time in to be vested in the pension plan, but also took advantage of continuing to save for retirement through the new tools and now I have a blend of retirement income types to finance this great last adventure.

As I grow accustomed to my new lifestyle, I realize that I am also drawing on the benefits of my intangible pension. This pension fund does not come from the stock market or a corporate plan. It is an accumulation of the skills and experiences I gained through working for various employers over fifty years.

My years in accounting-related jobs honed my skills in managing a budget and projecting expenses. I learned to keep a steady eye on the bottom line, a skill very much needed in retirement.

Keeping my many hobbies and interests thriving requires putting to good use the project management skills I learned at work. I did not leave my problem-solving skills and ability to be flexible back in a drawer in my cubicle; I use those techniques frequently.

Retirement in this day and age includes being able to work the technology. Remaining social as our bodies age becomes more of a challenge as the physical ability to get around diminishes with each passing year. The internet and social media allow opportunities to remain in contact with other people and keeping up with the business side of living is ever more dependent on being connected electronically.

I am very grateful that I had so many opportunities to learn computer technology throughout my career. I am confident to update and upgrade any computer and solve technical difficulties without having to call the Geek Squad. And the new toys beckon without instilling fear in my heart.

Of all the funds in my  intangible pension, I appreciate my learning skill the most. For a time, my employers saw educating their workers as a priority and I was able to take many classes and learn how to apply what I learned to my job. In later years, lack of funds extinguished the formal classes and it was then I really learned to teach myself new programs and software.

Now, one of my favorite retirement activities is learning from online classes and YouTube and actual books how to do something that  interests me and benefits others.  I also am confident to take community college classes. My job no longer depends on my mind mastering some new computer program. Mastering a new program now just means fun.

“Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.” (Ecclesiastes 11:6, NIV)

I invested my energy, my talents, and my attitude in my job during the day and on many, many evenings and weekends. There were failures among the successes during my careers. I did not realize then the seeds would continue to produce even after my formal work life ended. All praise to God for continuing to let these blessings flow in my life!

Color Me Gray

I still experience that fleeting startle reflex when I glance into a miGrayHair (1)rror and see my graying hair. I stopped coloring it when I crossed that inner mental line into retirement plan execution. Up until that point, maintaining my natural color was a technique used to support my employability. Despite the gains of equality in the past decades, a nearing retirement age employee is viewed increasingly as a liability rather than an asset.

Embracing the gray was symbolic of a deliberate engagement with the aging process and learning how to exploit it rather than attempt to hide it. As the cells that produce pigment in my hair die off, a mixture of monochromatic tones emerge. The color strip at the top of the photo is the palette derived from my hair. (I used the Adobe Color app to create it.) There are no longer any hints of red highlights or various shades of brown. The shiny, vibrant dark hair of previous years is absent.

The cells beneath my skull of hair are also dying off. Memory is the peskiest of these losses. I remember when I used to remember everything. I never hesitated to find the word I wanted to use. Now my brain cells are parking themselves in beach chairs and tossing back words that are close, or maybe similar or the same length, but they, too, are retired and aren’t about to find the exact word I want without prompting. And if I do quickly acquire the word I seek, I can’t remember how to spell it.

I see the parallel in the annual fall foliage routine. As daylight in the northern climes becomes less and less each day, the green pigment is no longer produced and the other pigments come forward for their number on nature’s stage. Their beauty entrances all who take the time to observe.

As my time on this earth grows ever shorter, I see the dominant interests and activities of my earlier years decrease. I am somewhat sad that I am too old to ride a roller coaster safely or backpack around Europe via youth hostels. The identity I had as a valued career employee is fading. I have moved away from dreams that no longer seem relevant.

But in their place, I see colors and texture of my personality emerge that were overshadowed by the dominance of my previous centers-of-interest. I see opportunities to experience things in a different way at a more reflective pace.

While early and middle life is a process of adding knowledge and skills and experiences and things, later life is a process of subtracting much of what was acquired physically, mentally, and emotionally. It is a process of continual change, all with the purpose of preparing me to rest in peace eternally.

Therefore I take comfort in Isaiah’s words from chapter 46, verse 4:

Even to your old age and gray hairs
    I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
    I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

While I am a being of change, my Creator is not. No matter what changes aging brings in its various forms, I am safe and secure in the knowledge that he loves me and proved it through his son, Jesus.

Negative Space Has Value

Becoming a better photographer includes learning about the principles of design in art. One of the principles that applies to photography is the idea of including “negative space” in the framing of a scene. It is defined as an area of emptiness that allows the subject of the photo to bask as the center of attention.

Apple (1 of 1)

As with anything elevated to the status of principle, questions arise. How much negative space? Where should it be? How do I keep it from being boring or looking like a mistake? Art is interpretative – answers will vary.

It is said that nature abhors a vacuum yet I have driven through endless, featureless prairies and gazed at empty, colorless skies. I think nature appreciates a bit of blank canvas, too.

So art and nature agree that we need a little space. I think about how easy it is to crowd activities into the boundaries of each day. I remember well the days when those boundaries overflowed and activities spilled into hours needed for sleep and healthy living. Retired life has the option of moving at a more leisurely pace, yet there is still the temptation to accommodate any and all activities that come to mind.

I think about the value space would add in my conversations with others. The space of silence would focus attention on the speaker and I would listen more effectively. There would be room in my head to think about what was expressed rather than immediately jumping to what I am going to say in response.

A few heartbeats of space in an argument can make room for the first spark of resolution.

Looking into one of my favorite books of the Bible, Psalm 46:10, I read, “Be still and know that I am God…” Why? The same reason that art design identifies the purpose for negative space: focus attention on the subject. The rest of the verse reads,  “I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Now I not only think about whether and where negative space is appropriate in a photograph I am making, I think about where in my day there needs to be some space to be still. Allowing quiet time in my life gives me the opportunity to reflect on the glory and wonder of God and I see His love for His Son reflected back on me. There is nothing negative in that picture. God knows when to break artistic rules.

Going Up

Advancing through the stages of aging sometimes prompts comments about “going downhill.” The edges of physical strength and memory gradually soften and the body slowly shifts its shape to accommodate weakening bones and muscle tone. Indeed, it does seem like life’s energy is slipping downhill in bigger chunks with each passing year.

This summer I hiked up a 1.5 mile trail on a mountain in the Grand Tetons in Wyoming. People of all ages attempted this hike as it was identified as steep but moderately easy. Apparently, the degree of ‘easy’ is directly related to the age of the hiker.

Hiking (1 of 1)At my age, the hike took longer with many more rest stops than I would have needed thirty years ago. I often stepped off to the side to let families with children pass, along with the serious hikers who were using the trail as a connector to more difficult paths. I used these little breaks to look around and soak in the beauty of the woods and rocks surrounding me.

Naturally, I thought, “I am too old for this!” I subconsciously began to see the comparison to aging and I realized that aging into retirement years isn’t a downhill experience after all. It is still just a journey, more comparable to hiking uphill than sliding downhill.

It is a slower pace, with more breaks. I look back at my life and I see the peaks and plateaus that were my experiences in earlier years. I see shadows in the valleys of the bad and sad events. I see the tangled brush of confusion and doubts along the way and feel the unevenness of the path beneath my emotions.

Looking back on my life’s journey from the perspective and power of age, I value all parts of the journey to this point. The path continues up. My eyes are on the prize of Heaven that Jesus won for me with his perfect, life, death and resurrection.

As I continued my way up the mountain to Inspiration Point, I recalled the words of Psalm 121 and pondered with wonder at how the truth of these words is revealed in my life – past, present and future.

Psalm 121

A song of ascents.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.

(New International Version)

This Psalm was one of my maternal Grandmother’s favorites. I love remembering her life of faith and how she leaned on the inspired words of this Psalm for her strength. I anticipate the joy of being re-united with her when my time is right.

I climbed that mountain trail to see a beautiful view. I can’t even imagine the spectacular view that awaits me at my life’s journey’s end. I just know that Jesus saved a place for me and all who believe in Him and it will be gloriously perfect.

Soul Grit

Returning from vacation to a clean house was like being greeted with a warm smile. I enjoyed being able to just concentrate on unpacking and catching up on trip laundry. The housework could easily wait until the next scheduled cleaning day.

Floor work

Floor work

As I went about my cleaning routine the next week, I was again surprised at how much dust and dirt I have to empty out of my vacuum cleaner each week. We don’t have children or pets, we don’t go to the beach, I rake my golf ball out of sand traps. Where does this dirt come from? It isn’t even visible to the naked eye.

It reminds me of my sins. The little ones that collect just below my consciousness and remain unrepented until I look for them. If I neglect to give them any attention, they pile up until my conscience starts to feel them, or I start to see consequences stemming from them. The bigger ones become obvious much sooner, of course.

Just as my house dust is dealt with during my weekly cleaning, my soul dirt is dealt with at regular worship services where I reflect on just how awesome God’s love is for me and for all sinners. The sins I remember show up for roll call and are repented of and dismissed. The sins I don’t remember, or even recognize, are also tossed away by the life and death of my Savior on my behalf.

Forgive and forget. Forgiving others is also part of the routine. Yes, it is a routine; just like dust and dirt return, so do sins; my own and those of others who affect me. I find forgiving comes much more easily than forgetting.

There is a difference between forgiving damage caused by sin and getting past it, whether self-inflicted or resulting from others. Personally, I am wired with a hot button that lights up when I am told to “get over it.” That means now, in someone else’s time frame. Like many, I need time to work through the healing/recovery/fixing process and I pray for patience with myself as I do this work. It is not a process than can be easily hurried.

Remembering the lesson from the spiritual mishap is important. Making corrections and seeing better ways to think and say and do things as we interact with God and with others makes life on this earth for more bearable internally and externally.

Eventually, the feeling associated with the hurt from sin recedes and the memory becomes more neutral. I am reminded of a favorite passage from one of Karen J Hasley’s novels in the Laramie series. The protagonist is in the process of “getting over it” and her inner dialogue includes recalling a painful memory. ‘It was like poking at a bruise to see if it still hurt.’ (I don’t remember which novel it was in or I would give the exact quote – see Karen J Hasley for all of Karen’s delightful novels.) Revisiting hurts to see if they still hurt is, hopefully, a short process. It is useful in determining when I have finally gotten over something sin-related that caused me emotional and spiritual stress.

As I complete each room during my weekly cleaning I spray a quick spritz of Fabreze fragrance in the room as a pleasant reminder that I am done with that room and it is in order for the moment. When I walk away from the Lord’s table after communion I also feel that sense of peace that, for the moment, all is right between me and my God and between me and those in my world. That peace makes the work of repentance worthwhile.

Travel Time

File Aug 22, 3 34 56 PMTravel plans are a standard feature in most retirement planning dreams. Pre-retirement, I imagined having the time and freedom to explore the world beyond my ordinary boundaries.

Six months into my retirement adventure my husband and I planned our first big trip since 2003. We had saved a little from the sale of our house to partially fund an adventure and, when the dust had settled from our relocation, we moved forward with our plan to see the Badlands, Mt. Rushmore, Devils Tower, Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons.

My husband had taken such a trip long before he met me and had an idea of what we would see and do. It would all be new to me. Our previous trips were well-planned with itinerary and accommodations set before leaving home. This time, we decided to try the serendipity approach and just head out and figure things out as we went along.

Two weeks later, I have learned many things along with seeing some spectacular scenery. While my brain thinks that it can do anything, my body reminded me that I am now retired because I am aging. I can no longer easily absorb the physical toll traveling over 4,000 miles by car takes on my body. Energy recovery takes longer and bumps and rough roads trigger aches in places that prefer not to be disturbed.

The stress of finding a motel and dealing with whatever bed was available was much greater than I thought it would be. I am used to simple accommodations when traveling but this time it seemed much more difficult to work around the lack of amenities, even at higher prices.

The concept of distance is now firmly established in my head. Driving 50 miles on a straight, mid-western road can be easily accomplished in an hour; driving 50 miles on a windy western mountain road takes two.

Dealing with busloads of visitors and numerous construction zones shaves a little of the edge off adventuring. In younger years, these things would not have bothered me nearly as much as they do now.

The negatives of elder travel are offset by advantages, however. We got senior discounts without even asking for them. We had a clear goal in mind to photograph these beautiful sites from our own perspective and, blessed with great weather, we were able to achieve this goal.

Knowing our nation’s history added much to seeing the sites in person. Staying at at Buffalo Bill Cody’s original hunting lodge inspired an appreciation for life as it was in his time. Seeing the Western architecture preserved in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, contrasted the landscape I am used to seeing and deepened my knowledge of cultures in our country. Meeting visitors from other nations added much to the texture of my experience.

Pouring over the many photos we captured, I re-live the sense of actually being there and feeling the sun and the wind on my face. I sense that anticipation I felt when I thought that I might actually see a wild animal in its natural habitat. We did see many bison, a few deer, and two turkeys.

While this trip was different in many ways from previous adventures, I value what I learned about myself from this trip the most. Retirement travel requires accepting the facts of aging and working them into future plans. My soul may want serendipity. My body wants planned comfort.

I now appreciate even more deeply the many references in the Psalms to nature and how even the earth will rejoice at His majesty:

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
    let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
12 Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
    let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.”

-Psalm 96:11-12 NIV

Anticipation of Things Above

Children love to anticipate things they think are going to be fun. My grandmother often warned me, when I was excited about some upcoming activity, that the “anticipation is not greater than the realization.” Her advice did not lower my expectations at all.

This week I have been volunteering for our church booth at the local county fair. Many scenes play out before my eyes and spark memories of my childhood when the highlight of the summer was going to the fair.

The years we lived in Menominee a trip to the fair was by no means guaranteed. The Upper Peninsula State Fair was an hour’s drive north. My dad worked a milk route and getting off early enough for us to make the trip meant getting up really, really early and getting the boss’s permission. We didn’t know in advance when, or if, we would be going. Finances and weather were also prime considerations in the decision. But we anticipated the possibility with great joy.

So my brother and sisters and I would go about our normal summer play, soaking up the sunshine and fresh air and companionship of friends. And then, we would suddenly hear Dad drive up and announce, “Let’s go!”

All the way to the fair we discussed our plans for how to use this precious time. How many20150727-DSC_0001Fair Rides At Night (1) rides would be be able to go on at a dime a ticket? Should we give up a ride so we could get a foot long hot dog? What about the games? We could  only play one, but which one? Would we be able stay until it got dark and ride some rides at night? Oh, the anticipation!

Twilight is upon me in my cycle of life and I think more about the much shorter distance from my place on earth to my place in heaven. I read the obituaries in our small town newspaper and wonder about how the people who died after a long illness anticipated the end of their earthly existence. It is hard to let go of this life, especially if we are not suffering physical distress. I am really enjoying the retirement phase of my life and hope it continues for a long time.

But, eventually, the sun will set on this life. I call to mind the words of 1 Corinthians 2:9, “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived  – the things God has prepared for those who love him.” Then I know that leaving this earth and going to the mansion prepared for me by Jesus Christ will be like enjoying a summer day  and suddenly hearing Dad’s voice calling me to come to something far better than childhood play and the annual summer fair.

The realization will be unimaginably greater than the anticipation.

Gallery

Waking Up Whimsey

This gallery contains 6 photos.

Rediscovering whimsey in retirement brings smiles. Continue reading

Enlightened

Fireworks are abundant this time of year and watching them renews in me that inner delight of being surprised by sudden, loud, colorful beauty. This year I used the opportunity to practice my photography skills.

I researched how to go about it and got to the site early enough to find a suitable spot to set up my tripod and get my camera ready for action. When the show began, I just trusted the settings and took as many photos as I could in the 20 minutes of showtime.

When I got home I transferred the digital files to my computer and reviewed the results. I was really disappointed. They were not at all what I expected. I knew they had to be post-processed since I shot them using the raw setting, but I had little hope I would be able to develop them so they looked as they did when I saw them live.

After a good night’s sleep, I opened up the files again and followed the instructions for how to develop digital photos. I was simply amazed at the results. All the light that was captured in the moment was recorded after all and it was just a matter of adjusting the shadows and highlights to reveal the colors at their proper intensity.

I saw in that experience an analogy to other things that at first seem disappointing but after a time become brilliant. The first example that came to mind is reading Scripture. Some of the passages seem very ordinary and without connection to my life or experiences. But as I think about them more, and tuck them away to chew on in the back of my mind, I begin to see how the words do affect me and my spiritual growth. I go back and read them again and I see even more meaning and I become enlightened to the message the words are conveying to me.

The second example involves a person I’ve known all my life but didn’t begin to know well until eight years ago. I liked and admired her but only saw the surface of her beauty at that time. She came through with an artistic favor for me and, as a result of that initial consultation, we started having lunch together every couple of months and communicating regularly via email in between visits. We saw common traits in each other and similar experiences and started nurturing a true friendship. She is now my best friend and I consider our relationship a rare treasure. Even though we live farther apart now, we still meet for a long lunch on schedule and have our heart-to-heart conversation.

In my first impression of the fireworks shot below, I saw something attractive but did not comprehend its true beauty until I worked to develop the image. The second photo is a stunning reminder to me that investing a little time and effort into a situation that seems dull just may reveal something beautiful after all. I am enlightened.

Before development

Fireworks-blog 1

Found Object Art and Life

I am fascinated by art created from an assortment of objects that take on new meaning when collected into a composition. A visit to the Toledo Museum of Art a couple of years ago included an interactive display that allowed visitors to select objects from bins on a big table and create displays on small display shelves mounted along the wall. Not only was it fun to do one myself, it was interesting to see what others created.

What makes something art? Every person reacts to art in a personal way, giving weight to the idea that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But there are common elements across the mediums of art that define what is pleasing to most people. Much of the attractiveness of a piece of art is due to composition, color and form.

I see a parallel in creating art from found objects to creating a lifestyle with what is found in my past and present life and what is in my dreams for the future. But what makes life “art” instead of just a collection of activities?

Pondering that, I go back to the basic principles of art. What is my life’s composition? How am I arranging my activities in the frame of each day? Artists pay attention to what is in the foreground, middle ground and background of their compositions. Composers and writers interpret that concept as introduction, development and conclusion. The goal is to draw the viewer, listener or reader into the work and entertain or educate them or just splash some sunlight on their souls or thoughts on their minds.

So I look at my interests and activities and think: what is in the foreground at this time of my life? What subject has my primary focus right now? What things are in the background, waiting for their turn to move into a different area of my attention?

Retirement was in the background for many years. I looked forward to it and slowly prepared for it as the years progressed. Then it moved into the middle of my attention where the planning took on greater detail and the dreams became more saturated. Finally, the time came for it to move front and center in the foreground.

How do I now take that foreground with its interests and activities and limitations and arrange it in such a way that is pleasing to me and and to others? Like the artist, I try different arrangements. I add and subtract things. I stand back and see if it “works”. Then I play around with it some more. I find this very entertaining.

As a child, I loved to do sidewalk chalk drawings and water paintings.   Along with playing in the sand, these creations lasted only as long as the environment allowed. Rain washed away the chalk drawings; the water paintings evaporated quickly. My little sand creations faced the risk of anything that came into my sandbox world. Now I know that it was the process of creating them that was satisfying, more so than preserving the results of my play.

This gives me some perspective on how to manage my life during this unique time of retirement. I realize that however I spend my days, it is living the day that counts as much as any lasting results that may come from what I do. I learn and grow from what I do and, like my childhood drawings, Jesus washes any my sins regularly.

Psalm 118:24 tells us “This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” Every day the Lord gives me is an opportunity to appreciate all that He has done, and will continue to do, for me.